Pants Zipped, Legs Together

OMG, I'm in for such a miserable, wretched life.

Yo’ mama is so dumb she got knocked up when she was a teenager.

Teenage pregnancies are down in the US, but that hasn’t stopped the City of New York from beginning a new campaign to shame and stigmatize teen age moms and their kids, instead of, you know, focusing on preventing teenage pregnancy.

Because shame and stigma have been scientifically proven to keep pants zipped and legs clamped together.*

And then I was thinking, didn’t we (meaning us Americans) try this before?  And didn’t I read all about it in Mrs. Kolczak’s class junior year? What was that book called?

Oh, yeah, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

I was flipping through the posters that are being plastered all over NYC subways and elsewhere as part of the campaign (you can see them all here) and I was thinking about my kids who are sweet and nice and all things good, and I was thinking about your other people’s kids who are mean and nasty and cruel and I decided in no time kids will be taunting one another on the playground with the information they picked up in the subway.

“You’re going to drop out of high school!”

“Your Dad’s going to leave your Mom!”

“You only have a 2% chance of breaking the cycle of poverty!”

Or something like that.

Looking at those posters, I can’t help but wonder about their efficacy.  Would they have kept me from having sex as a teenager?  I wrote about my desperate attempt to lose my virginity in this post, Blog Posts I Didn’t Write, and back then I was absolutely OCD about not getting pregnant. I had condoms and spermicidal foam and spermicidal suppositories (which I didn’t even know existed until I saw them in the “family planning” aisle at CVS) all packed in my purse.  There was no way any sperm was leaving alive that night.  So I doubt subway posters supplied by the City of New York’s Department of Social Services could have made me want to get any less pregnant than I already did.

Fast forward many years later, I’m a Mom, I sometimes lie awake imagining every terrible thing that could happen to my family (My husband could die.  No, I could die and my husband could marry some horrible woman who would be an evil stepmother to my children.  Wait, no, we could all die when we’re swallowed by a giant sinkhole that opens up underneath the house) and the absolute worst thing I can imagine is this:

One of my daughters gets pregnant by a greasy haired skateboard kid (the lazy slackers I see hanging out in front of the Starbucks in town with nothing better to do) when she’s fourteen.

OK, maybe it’s not the worst (that sinkhole thing is pretty bad) but it’s up there.

You can read more about the controversy surrounding New York City’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign in the New York Times article, “Posters On Teen Pregnancy Draw Fire.

*It has not been proven that shame and stigma keeps anyone from having sex, and Reverend Dimmesdale was a pussy and Hester Prynne should have kicked Roger Chillingworth in the crotch.

The image in this post can be found at NYC HRA Department of Social Services website.

19 thoughts on “Pants Zipped, Legs Together

  1. Karen says:

    The theme for March on NaBloPoMo is risk, and this post discusses that riskiest of behaviors, teenage sex.

    After I wrote this post, I came across a news article about the state of Mississippi, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. In November, the Mississippi state legislature passed HB 999, and now students in that state’s public schools will receive (sort of) sexual education for the first time ever.

    You can read more about what’s going on in Mississippi in this article, “Sex Ed Without Condoms? Welcome to Mississippi” over on the Atlantic.


    • strugglingwriter says:

      I think the worst thing that could happen to me and my family would be to move to the South. What a weird, archaic place.

      I don’t have much else to say about this post. I agree with it. I’m tempted to say those posters have to be influenced/thought up by a conservative, but I don’t know that for sure, so that would be unfair to say.


      • Karen says:

        Oh, I don’t think the South is all that different from the rest of the country. Let’s not forget this public service campaign originates in New York City. Now Southern politicians, on the other hand . . .

        The posters are just downright bizarre, and my heart breaks for any teen Mom who’s riding the subway with her little one and has the misfortune to be sitting near one. I can’t imagine what purpose the creators of this campaign are thinking they will achieve.


          • Karen says:

            My Dad grew up in rural Virginia and he raised two left wing radical progressive daughters, so I’ve never felt “the South” was some great big blob of people who all thought the same way.

            Plus, all the great literature that has come out of the South–I just can’t malign a part of the country that gave birth to so many great American writers.


    • Karen says:

      The article in the Atlantic is really interesting and as disheartening as it may be for the sexual health advocates who have worked tirelessly to get some sort of sex ed in the public schools there, I can’t help but feel the passage of HB999, even though it prohibits discussion of contraception in the classroom, is a (baby) step forward for the state of Mississippi.


    • Karen says:

      It really is, and I’m still scratching my head this morning trying to figure the whole thing out. Given what we now know about the development of the adolescent brain and the fact that young people really do not understand the consequences of their actions, I have to really wonder about the intellectual quality of the folks working over at NYC’s Department of Social Services.


  2. Joyce says:

    To over-generalize, I would say that teenage girls who get pregnant fall into two categories: those who think it won’t happen to them, or those who think it would be so awesome to have a baby. I don’t think either group possesses the foresight to suppose that their theoretical children will not graduate high school 18 years from now. Now, that 16 & Pregnant show made teen motherhood look exceptionally hard, but then when some of those moms started gaining their own kind of celebrity – not so much.


    • Karen says:

      I think the reasons why teens have babies are pretty complex, and not well understood, e.g. no one seems to know why the teen birth rate has dropped so dramatically in recent years.

      I don’t think any pregnant teen girl, most of whom are quite familiar with the rigors of raising children because they’ve witnessed their moms or their aunts or their sisters do it, thinks having a baby in high school is going to be a walk in the park.

      I come from a pretty impoverished background (think Toys for Tots Christmases at our house) and yet both my sister and I managed to avoid teen pregnancy. I’ve thought about this for years, and discussed it with my sister, and neither one of us has really come up with a satisfactory answer for “Why them and why not us?” Again, I think it’s a very complex issue.


      • Joyce says:

        It is definitely a complex issue and I don’t mean to make light of it. I do think that there is a small population of teens who become pregnant not entirely by mistake, possibly because in their surroundings girls have had babies very young and with little to no paternal support. I think that those young girls would not be swayed by a poster suggesting that they look 18 years into the future.

        As the child of teen parents – 16 and 17, split up by the time I was 2 – I was absolutely determined to not get pregnant until I was ready. If ever. I started birth control before I ever even had a boyfriend or had sex for the first time, because I knew it was a matter of time, and I saw how stressful teen parenthood had been on my mother, and in turn, on me.


          • Morgan Ross says:

            While rummaging through the university library back in my school days I once, out of pure curiosity, pulled a title from the shelf called “School Age Pregnancy and Parenthood” (ed. by Lancaster and Hamburg). It’s kind of a stuffy academic book, and there’s a ton of other literature on the subject, but it tries to answer the “why” question, and I thought it was really enlightening….Maybe I’ll order a copy from Amazon and have it sent to the NYC Department of Social Services, along with some remedial reading in social policy planning and community development. And a Hallmark card.


  3. Morgan Ross says:

    Thanks for this post about public health goals gone haywire. It’s utterly discouraging–and offensive–that NYC is attempting to address an issue deeply entrenched in poverty, politics, economics, discrimination and social disparities by launching a shame campaign: Very empowering.


    • Karen says:

      I have to believe, given the widespread outcry, that the City will come to its senses and pull these posters. Though, right now, they’re digging in their heels and defending the campaign.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment 🙂


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